From the archives: Sig Gissler, Pulitzer administrator 2002-2014

Sig Gissler, left, is toasted by Seymour Topping during a reception honoring Gissler's appointment as administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes Thursday April 18, 2002, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Sig Gissler, left, is toasted by Seymour Topping during a reception honoring Gissler's appointment as administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes in 2002, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Sig Gissler announced his retirement as administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes in January. He served in the position since 2002. Here's a look back at Poynter's archives on Gissler and the Pulitzers during his time.

2004: No feature winner

In 2004, Poynter's Roy Peter Clark wrote about the Pulitzer Board's decision not to name a feature winner.

When I first heard that the Pulitzer Board had not awarded a prize in feature writing this year, I assumed the worst. I figured that scandal fatigue had filled board members with paranoia, that members were arguing about the lack of transparency in stories – to use the word of the day – about sourcing and attribution.

My fears, I am happy to report, were unfounded.

2005: A view from the inside and support from online

In 2005, Jim Romenesko reported for Poynter that online material could be submitted in support of entries.

“It’s a very significant change,” says Pulitzer Prize administrator Sig Gissler. “This reflects the growing importance of online content, but, at the same time, print remains very important, and I think the Pulitzer competition now reflects a blend of print and online, which is what most newspapers are seeking to achieve these days.”

Roy J. Harris Jr. reported for Poynter from The World Room at Columbia University, where the Pulitzers are announced.

While the overall process of disseminating information on the year’s prizes is much higher-tech these days, Monday it still seemed like the 1950s in the World Room.

“Let’s pass out the press kits and sprinkle fairy dust on people and change their lives forever,” said Pulitzer Prize administrator Sig Gissler in welcoming the 40-person press corps. Then, he declared a 20-minute break for phoned-in reports.

2008: The rise of the web

In April of this year, Jonathan Dube spoke with Gissler and wrote for Poynter about the growing presence of reporting on the web in the prizes.

What lessons have you learned about online journalism from observing the online work included in the Pulitzer entries over the past few years?

Gissler: We’re on the right track. Our competition is for the blended newspaper, part online, part in print.This reflects where the industry is and where it is continuing to head.

2009: Changing rules for entries

In 2009, Jim Romenesko reported for Poynter about changes for online entries. From the press release:

The requirement sometimes excluded possibly promising entries — notably by online columnists, critics and bloggers — because of the nature of their Web affiliation, according to Sig Gissler, administrator of the Prizes.

“The revised rule will provide more flexibility as we focus on the merit of an entry rather than the mission of the Web site where it appeared,” Gissler said.

Also this year, Gissler tightened up leaks about the awards, Roy J. Harris Jr. reported for Poynter.

Regulars among the ever-changing jury panels noted that Pulitzer Prize Administrator Sig Gissler’s increasingly fervid secrecy campaign simply might have achieved peak success this year.

“Sig has been saying that the spreading of rumors can create false hopes and can generate lobbying,” said Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow, a juror in the public-service category in 2008 and this year in a category he wouldn’t disclose. Jurors took “a solemn oath,” he said, “which was signed en masse.”

2011: No breaking news winner

In 2011, there was no Pulitzer winner for breaking news. Poynter's Al Tompkins wrote about the prizes that year.

“While it is the first time that we did not have a winner in this category, it is the 25th time the Board has not awarded a Prize in a category,” said Sig Gissler, Pulitzer Prize administrator.

Later that year, Julie Moos reported for Poynter on changes to the definition for the breaking news category to emphasize real-time breaking news. All submissions would also now be sent in digitally.

Gissler said by email: “Looking ahead, we don’t expect every entry to be so elaborate but the Seattle package does point in the right direction — namely, swift use of available tools to tell a breaking story. At this point, we don’t have other examples to offer.”

2013: First freelance photographer wins a Pulitzer in 17 years

Javier Manzano won for feature photography, Mallary Jean Tenore reported for Poynter, and the win marked the first for a freelancer in 17 years.

Freelancers have won Pulitzer prizes in the past, but not nearly as often as full-time journalists have. Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler told Poynter that it’s been 17 years since a freelance photographer won a Pulitzer. (Two freelance photographers — Charles Porter IV and Stephanie Welsh — won in 1996.)

2014: No feature winner

The Pulitzers this year named no winners in the feature category, Sandra Oshiro wrote for Poynter.

Since three finalists were chosen by the nominating jury for that category, why was one not selected by the board? Pulitzer Prizes administrator Sig Gissler told IBT’s Christopher Zara: “It’s not a statement on the quality of feature writing in America,” he said in a phone interview. “They were thoroughly discussed and carefully considered.”


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